Patient Advocate Insider: From the Desk of Karen Selby, R.N.

Patient Advocate Insider Series

I had a patient’s daughter e-mail me last week to ask about a new drug she saw on a website about mesothelioma. She wanted my thoughts on Immunotherapy.

The drug in question was Onconase. She asked her mother’s oncologist about it, and she said the doctor told her he had never heard of it.

I suspect the oncologist had not heard of it because Onconase is still being researched and only available through clinical trials. According to the website Ranpirnase.org – ranpirnase is the generic name for Onconase – the drug it is a ribonucleic enzyme which catalyzes the breakdown of RNA.

RNA is one of the three major macromolecules (along with DNA and proteins) present in all forms of life. The role of RNA is complicated but it plays a role in accelerating a chemical change. Basically, it’s created from an enzyme found originally in frogs that speeds up the body’s ability to destroy a cancer cell or stop it from dividing.

Onconase is in its final stages of clinical trials and is not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Unfortunately, now that the girl’s mother has started treatment, she probably won’t be eligible to take part in a clinical trial until she completes her current round of treatment series.

The reason for a clinical trial is to see how patients respond to a specific drug or treatment. Doctors who run trials want to obtain the most accurate data. They often prefer participants not to be involved in any other treatment. (Other drugs or supplements in the body may skew the data they are trying to obtain.)

In fact, some studies are not open to patients that have had any prior treatment at all. This particular one is – just not while you are in the middle of another treatment.

As for immunotherapy, it is geared toward making the immune system recognize antigens on cancer cells as being foreign, which allows the immune system to destroy those cells.

There is some question whether immunotherapy offers results that were originally anticipated, and it is still being researched.

The good news is that these trials continue to obtain government funding. I feel that because funding of these immunotherapy trials continues to happen, this must mean that there are enough positive results to warrant hopeful news for our mesothelioma patients.

The other good news is that new trials are being undertaken all the time. There are teams of doctors and researchers pushing to cure mesothelioma.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trial options, contact me. I’d be happy to do some research to see if there are opportunities that suit your individual needs.

We hope this segment of our Patient Advocate Insider series has been hopefully. Is there a particular topic you’d like to see covered? Let us know in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter.


Karen Selby is a registered nurse and a Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center. She worked in several subspecialties within nursing before joining Asbestos.com in 2009.

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